Crafting Smiles

By Silvana Clark

What would camp be without those special arts and crafts projects campers make on a regular basis? Crafts provide an opportunity for creativity and communication. Children easily share thoughts and ideas while sitting next to fellow campers, sharing glue and paint. Crafts also help children develop self esteem. Try these two activities that provide artistic expression and help campers feel good about themselves...


Blooming Artists
Ever wish you could spend a quiet afternoon sitting at an easel next to a babbling brook in the French countryside? There you'd be, in complete silence, painting a chateau in the distance, sipping local wine.

In reality, you're in charge of 200 noisy campers, drinking fruit punch while making sculptures from toothpicks and marshmallows. This summer, re-create that French experience with an outdoor art experience for your campers.

Set up an outdoor art studio. Campers are so used to doing traditional arts and crafts projects that watercolor paintings will be something new and different.

Find a few pictures of impressionistic paintings in library books. Compare those paintings with examples of realistic artwork. Give a few basic instructions on using watercolors (in your best French accent of course!).

Emphasize that the paintings don't have to be totally realistic. A "smudge" of brown paint could represent a dog. This takes pressure off campers who feel they can't paint.

Painting outside creates an entirely different art experience. If you have easels, set them up under a few trees. Otherwise, simply give campers paints and watercolors on picnic tables or even a sidewalk or other flat surface.

If possible, provide paint smocks to have a true artist's appearance. French berets are optional.

Ask children to look at the landscape around them. Do they notice different shades of green? Any flowers or colorful weeds close by? Is there an actual babbling brook or serene lake?

As campers begin their paintings, play some classical music. Crank up that sound system and encourage campers to "paint from their soul."

Some campers will be worried that their paintings aren't picture perfect. That's where the French accent and loud music help convey a fun atmosphere.

Let the paintings dry as the children go off to another activity. Then, the next day, or at a time when you are looking for a quiet activity, give each camper their painting and divide them into groups of five to seven.

Often, campers make a craft project, and then race off to another event. In this case, campers get a chance to display and share their painting with the rest of the group.

Take turns so reach child can describe their painting. As a group, come up with a fancy title for each picture. Label the paintings with titles like The Willow Tree at Camp Hyak or Seven Stones by Lake Milligan.

Instruct counselors to make positive statements about each painting. Campers feel good hearing a counselor say, "Jordan, you really make me feel warm with that bright yellow sun you painted" or, "Ashley, I can almost smell those colorful flowers you painted."

It's seldom campers get feedback about something they created. After everyone has had a chance to talk about their painting, find a large wall or fence and display your Jr. Rembrandt artwork.

Life Size Murals
Most elementary students have traced their bodies around large pieces of butcher paper. Add a warm-fuzzy element to this simple craft that will help campers gain self-esteem.

Check with your local newspaper for free or discounted newsprint roll ends. This provides you with yards and yards of low cost paper. Unroll the paper on a flat surface and cut it in sections long enough to accommodate your campers' bodies.

Let campers lay on their backs to get their body outlined. Take turns so everyone is a tracer and a tracee. Watch out for giggles as kids get traced around their armpits! (For some reason, tracing around heads produces distorted shapes, but that's part of the fun.)

After all campers have an outline of their bodies, set out markers and crayons so bodies can be embellished. Draw facial features, T-shirts, shoes, etc. For a three-dimensional effect, have campers use yarn for hair and large wiggle eyes.

When finished, divide campers into cabin groups where everyone knows each other. Exchange paper bodies. Using markers, have each camper write several statements on each paper. For example, encourage comments such as, "Samantha helped me find my beach towel when I wanted to go swimming" or, "Jared is a great soccer player!" Other comments could be, "Adam shared his candy with me yesterday" or, "Hayley always has a smile when she wakes up." Keep exchanging papers until everyone has written comments on every camper's paper body.

If space allows, hang these life-size murals so everyone can see what wonderful campers you have. Campers also get a boost to their self-confidence when they read positive comments from their fellow campers.

Simply roll up each body and secure with a rubber band to take home.

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects and is a frequent speaker at camp and recreation conferences.